The Symbiotic Club

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This work contains adult themes and is not intended for children.

Prologue

Memo

Date: May 16, 1969
To: Lead detectives in the Ruth murder
From: Wanda Drake, J. D., Assistant District Attorney
CC: District Attorney Tom Bruce

In the opinion of the District Attorney and myself, we do not have enough evidence to indict Henry Ruth. The match of tire prints at the crime scene to the type used on his truck is far from placing him at the scene on the night of the murder. While the tread is of a limited distribution, it is not unique to his truck. His lack of an alibi does contribute. However, your theory of his motive is too weak; if a daughter's not obeying her father were reason for murder, I would have been dead many times before I graduated from high school.

We suggest that you intensify your inquires into his past. The strangulation suggests a violent individual. If he is capable of choking his own daughter to death, that trait has manifested itself before. If you cannot establish that he has a violent background, you should probably widen your suspect list.

Chapter 1 - The War Game

I grew up in Missouri during the fifties and early sixties. Officially, the state's schools were integrated, but the ones I attended were all white. Most of the parents of my fellow students felt strongly that black people should have their own schools; that blacks were naturally inferior.

My parents, who were of predominately Cherokee heritage, taught me differently. My mother, particularly, felt that she had been a victim of discrimination and didn't want her children to perpetuate the injustice. So, we were different from our neighbors and didn't interact much with them.

As a child, I had few friends and those were children who were also unpopular. I spent most of my free time reading the newspaper and thinking that perhaps I could become a reporter.

As I entered high school, the mood of the country seemed to shift. More people were oriented to equality. In high school, I met a few people who shared my views, and we formed a small group. We worked for the election of JFK, and pulled for the freedom riders.

I never risked asking any of my friends for dates.

When the assassin's bullet struck President Kennedy in November of 1963, I was a junior in high school. As word of the deed in Dallas spread through the school, classes turned to chaos. The first response was disbelief, then shock, and finally tears. Everywhere people were crying; some of the toughest boys cried. Many of those visibly most upset were segregationists.

Some may have rejoiced at President Kennedy's death. Certainly, unhappiness with his civil rights' initiatives was strong. Some anticipated that they had a savior in the newly installed Johnson. After all, Johnson hailed from Texas. The Texan surprised many when he announced his Great Society, and proceeded to produce sweeping legislation in civil rights. Most analysts agreed that Kennedy wouldn't have been as effective. In so doing, Johnson won my support.

My support carried over to the war in Vietnam. In 1965, I graduated from high school. That summer, the U. S. mobilized for war and I enlisted in the Army.

The military promised me training as a journalist. After basic training, the Army provided me a six week course in writing. Then, the Army put me through an eight week advanced infantry course. They told me that if I was going to report on war, I had best learn about war.

The Army next gave me orders to Vietnam so that I could learn about war first hand as a foot soldier. Understanding, by then, something of the ways of the military, I took my orders in stride. I accept the possibility that the experience might benefit me. However, events soon redirected my thinking.

I killed my first person. The Cong had been waiting in ambush. The enemy shot the first two men in the patrol. I was on the left flank, obscured by the undergrowth, and could see the sniper's profile not more than thirty yards away.

I shot without thinking. The bullet entered just below the man's right ear and came out farther down his neck on the left side. Without adequate support, his head dropped to his shoulders and then forward as his body rolled to the ground.

Only then did I actually know it had been my shot that was responsible. My whole body recoiled from the realization. My legs went weak; my stomach lost its bottom; my arms had no strength.

Others saw that the sniper was dead. "Are you all right, Hunter?" The question came from a black sergeant named Pride.

"I'm fine."

"Damn, I thought you'd been shot too. Well pull yourself together! We've got lots of ground to cover before night."

Sergeant Pride came from Chicago. He brought to the service wisdom learned in the street. At 6'6", his 240 lb. were well distributed in his broad shoulders, arms, hips and legs. He moved through the underbrush like a panther.

I knew Pride's statement was symbolically as well as literally correct. I had to adjust to this type of life or I wouldn't survive.

I knew even then that what I had just experienced was minor by comparison with what I would see. But try as I might, I couldn't bring my body's reaction in alignment with my mind.

Every time I saw a wounded or dead person, the blood rushed from my head and my stomach turned upside down. Every time, I firmly believed that I would go insane before the next time. Every time, I firmly believed that I wouldn't be able to kill again; but, my body didn't understand. It continued to aim and fire.

My struggle intensified daily until my tour was over half completed.

Once again, my squad was on patrol. I had the left flank. This time I saw the sniper before she saw me. She was beautiful even in her black pajamas and with mud in her hair.

My body didn't respond. I didn't raise my rifle to my shoulder. I didn't blow her smooth skinned head from its shoulders. I thought how young she was just a kid.

I must have made some sound because she turned her attention from the road to my direction. I saw the flash from her rifle. I felt the slug's impact as it knocked me to the ground. I heard a shot from the road. I fought to maintain consciousness.

"Medic! Over here!" It was the voice of Sergeant Pride.

"I got the bitch for you."

I was airlifted to a field hospital near Da Nang where the bullet was removed.

"You were never in danger," Lt. McMurphy, one of the nurses, assured me. "The bullet was lodged in your shoulder blade. Unfortunately, we did considerable damage to your shoulder in removing the bullet. The bad news is that you'll never have full use of that arm. The good news is that you're going stateside."


The ship ride back to Seattle constituted a restful transition. I was still weak when we left; if I had any sea sickness, it was subsumed in my general recovery. As the ship continued over the high seas, I regained some of my strength and was able to take short walks on deck. The Pacific's water, clear and calm, inspired awe. As I stared into its depths, it seemed to help me focus mentally. Wave after wave, the realization flowed in that I was alive.

For most of the trip, I was oblivious to the other patients on the ship. However, as my euphoria over being alive and on my way back to civilization intensified, so did my awareness of the events around me.

Idleness on board had been like a vacuum; it was being filled by games of chance. My attention was first focused by the excitement of a crap game. The group was using a corner cot as a table. Someone was rolling the dice.

Another complained, "That's seven straight passes!"

"Six hundred and forty bucks says that I'll make the eighth one."

Just the thought of that much money made me back a little farther from the table. I had been saving all I could toward my college education and I had only a couple of hundred dollars more than this guy wanted to bet.

"I'll take $100 of that!" one person responded.

"I'll take $20."

"Five hundred twenty open, if anybody wants any. No, then, I'm rolling for the one twenty," said the man with the dice. He seemed relieved that there were no takers for the $520 that he still held in his left hand. The dice bounced against the wall and came down on the tightly drawn blanket. One spot showed on one die and two spots showed on the other.

"Craps," snarled the man with $520 in his left hand.

"Craps," moaned the man to his right. "Why the shit couldn't you have done that before I went broke!"

The winners picked up their money and the game continued. I wandered on down the bay.

Others were gambling with cards, mostly poker. They invited me to play. "It is just a nickel, dime game," they told me.

The nickel, dime games helped me pass several hours on the trip to Seattle and while in rehabilitation at Fort Lewis. I played in them daily at Fort Lewis until Miara became my physical therapist.

Miara threatened my every belief about women. Miara stood only 5' 2", but could lift any of her patients. She was probably in her mid thirties; although in her muscle outlined white uniform, no one could pinpoint her age. She always looked the same with red hair always in rings around her neck, and white skin apparently devoid of makeup. She bluntly told her patients that she loved the Army for two reasons: one was the job, which she loved, and the other was the men, whom she loved more.

Miara generated considerable excitement among the patients. They looked forward to seeing her and were happiest when she was present. I didn't share their pleasure. Nothing in my upbringing had prepared me for frank and explicit language when I first heard it from men. Now, I was shocked hearing it from a woman. My tendency was to ignore her when she wasn't directly supervising my therapy.

Soon, a patient mentioned my coolness toward Miara. I tried to explain, "I'm just not used to hearing a woman talk that way."

"Now, Hunter! What you got? Some kinda virgin ears?"

"I bet more about him is virgin than his ears."

Later, Miara asked me if I was a virgin. I froze at the question.

"No need to be ashamed of it," she said.

"I'm not ashamed of it. It's just personal."

"Personal! Hell! How'd it happen? A man your age has missed some of the best years of screwing....."

The next day, Miara gave me special attention as I exercised. She stood to my left so that my arm was forced to rub across her breast.

The arousal frightened me. I feared that my body would take control of me. It urged me toward Miara, but my mind rebelled. There was nothing soft about Miara. I felt in conflict but had no basis for understanding, much less resolving, my conflict. I was relieved when the session ended and dreaded the next one.

"What's wrong with you, Man? She's a fine looking woman. She's just looking for a little satisfaction. You can give it to her. Lord knows, I wish I could," said a soldier who was struggling to use a wheel chair.

"Yeah, Hunter, there is nothing wrong with being a virgin. The problem is in staying one."

Everyone laughed but me.

"Miara is the ideal solution to your problem."

I had no response. All I knew was that Miara wasn't ideal, at least not for me.

When my allotted time for exercise had elapsed, I asked to be excused. She looked at me from toe to head, slowly, while the men chuckled. "Are you sure you don't want to exercise that other muscle there? It sure looks like it needs it!"

"Yes, ma'am, I'm sure."

"What? I can't hear you!" she said as she moved to within inches of my face. Her breast brushed against my chest as she inhaled.

"Yes, ma'am, I'm sure," I repeated with more volume that, indeed, reflected an increased determination on my part.

"Well, hell! You better go take a cold shower then," she said. The men were no longer laughing. They hissed and jeered at me as I headed toward the showers.

In the shower, I regained some of my composure. I understood my reaction to Miara, at least to a degree. Obviously, at twenty, I was ignorant of how to react to women. Otherwise, I might have responded to Miara more as a person. As it was, my involvement with Miara could only be sexual and on her terms. I wanted, even needed, some corresponding romance. This insight might have reduced my frustrations, but the entire situation only increased my need for female companionship.

Fortunately, I was mobile. I began moving about the post at every free moment and signing off post every weekend. In Olympia, I found something of a respite although a lonely one. I ate alone, walked alone along Puget Sound and went alone to movies. I saw no opportunity to even talk to a woman. Finally, it dawned on me that the best opportunity would be during the bus ride.

I began to visualize walking onto the bus and seeing a woman. I saw myself asking if the seat next to her was taken. Then one day, as I entered the bus, I scanned the seats. Near the front was a girl sitting alone. I reacted quickly.

"May I sit here?"

"Sure." She looked up at me with baby-blue eyes. As I looked at her face, I knew that she was practically a child. She looked slender and extremely fragile.

For a split second, I saw the girl in Viet Nam waiting in ambush. I sat down anyway.

I considered the contrast between this child and Miara.

I thought, "Well, I can talk to her until we get to Olympia; there'll be no harm in that. She's probably going farther south anyway."

"Are you stationed here at Fort Lewis?" she asked.

I relaxed as we talked. I learned that she was fourteen and going into the ninth grade in Olympia. She had an older sister. I wanted to know about her sister, but I didn't change the flow of conversation to inquire about her.

The girl said she was Liz Anchor and she wanted to become a missionary. She loved to travel and looked forward to see all 50 states while spreading the gospel.

As the bus turned into the alley and rounded the building to the rear of the terminal, Liz asked if I would help with her luggage. When we got off the bus, she introduced me to her mother.

To my surprise, Mrs. Anchor invited me to their house for lunch. "We like to have soldiers out," she said.

"Do come!" implored Liz. "Susan's guy, David -- he's a soldier -- will be there. It'll be fun."

So I went. I enjoyed the food and the conversation. When Mrs. Anchor drove me back to the bus station that afternoon, Liz rode with us. They invited me back for the next weekend. Mrs. Anchor stressed that we would go to church together Sunday morning.

I looked forward to the return visit. It would be nice to be in a family atmosphere, to abide in its love, even if I had no one there to love. Perhaps, I could be like a big brother to Liz. Moreover, there should be other young people at the church, perhaps even a woman more my age.

The next Saturday afternoon, Liz and I listened to records, while her mother worked about the house. Susan and David were out of sight.

Liz told me that her father sold furniture and didn't arrive home until late. The family waited dinner for him.

When Mr. Anchor came home, he hugged his wife and two daughters. He shook my hand and told David and me how good it was to have us there. Mr. Anchor washed his hands and we all went in to dinner. He said a prayer and we ate.

On Sunday morning, we went to church. It was a small congregation. The people smiled when they saw me with Liz. When they shook my hand, they expressed delight in meeting a friend of Liz's. I met no one my age.

During lunch, Mrs. Anchor asked what time I would get there the next weekend. I recognized an uneasy feeling within me.

All that week, I analyzed my feelings. The Anchors had provided a haven in which I should have felt relief, but I didn't. Apparently, the Anchors used hospitality in hopes of converting GI's. From one perspective, they used good to encourage good. Did my action say I was considering converting? If so, I was accepting their hospitality on false pretenses. Perhaps, that explained my discomfort.

I considered calling the Anchors and telling them that I had duty or was ill. However, it was a lonely, abuse filled week. Although my strength had returned to my arm, and Miara virtually ignored me, the men found increasing joy in taunting me. I felt a need to escape.

Again, the next Saturday, Liz and I listened to music and talked. However, she talked less and looked softly at me more. Finally, she asked if I wanted to dance. "Our religion teaches against dancing," she said, "but, we interpret that to be public dancing. Dancing in the privacy of your home can't lead anyone astray."

"I'm not up on the latest. I couldn't dance to this music."

"I had something slower in mind anyway," she said, changing the record. I stood seeing no easy objection left.

She melted into my arms. I resisted the conclusion that she had a crush on me. I chose to believe that she was pretending: an adolescence version of childhood play.

As the music continued, our bodies moved increasingly as one. I relaxed and enjoyed the music and the warmth of her young body. We danced wordlessly for the totality of a long play record.

When it ended, she squeezed my hand. I looked at her face which was alight with a dreamy look. She said with a moan, "That was wonderful." She went to turn the record.

I felt a sense of panic. "Maybe we should sit this one out."

"I'm for that," she said and returned to sit beside me.

"Our religion isn't so strict in terms of what couples can do in private. You know, as long as they care about each other."

After a moment, she giggled softly and continued, "Do you know where Susan and David are?"

"No, I don't."

"They're in Susan's room, making out, I bet."

"Really?"

"Of course they plan to get married soon," she hastened to add.

We sat silently before she said, "You know, I could teach you some of the new dances, if you'd like."

The offer sounded like a reprieve.

She said she learned to dance from "American Bandstand." She moved acrobatically to the music and showed me the corresponding moves.

After a time, her mother called out, "Your father's home."

"Wow, how time passed," Liz said as she switched off the stereo. "I'd better towel off. You didn't even break a sweat. I'll be back in a minute."

I turned around and there were Susan and David as if they had been there all afternoon.

At church the next day, the people's looks and comments made it clear that they viewed Liz and me as a couple.

At lunch, David said, "Hey, next Saturday there's going to be a carnival at the Sound. Why don't the four of us make an evening of it."

"Sure," I responded after only a flash of the rehabilitation center crossed my mind.

Indeed my discomfort was greater on base than in Olympia. The men continued their snide remarks.

Going back to Olympia, I considered simply enjoying the situation. The other patients were probably right: Developing appropriate relationships was stupid. Yet, I never reached that conclusion. My mind remained in such a muddle that I never reached any conclusion.

The four of us ate early so as to have more time at the fair. David drove the family car. Susan sat next to him. They kissed at each stop light. Liz took my hand in the back seat.

As they stopped at the final light before reaching the carnival, Liz looked up at me and closed her eyes. I gave her what I hoped could be called a brotherly kiss.

She placed her hand on the back of my neck and ran her fingers through my hair. She kissed me again. She ran her tongue into my mouth. Her fingers made little rings in my hair.

"Hey folks, we're there," David said.

We enjoyed several of the carnival rides, Liz holding my hand all the time. In the Tunnel of Love, we were only in the dark long enough for a brief kiss. We bought cotton candy, and made a mess with it. I was having a good time.

Then, David suggested that we leave the carnival and Susan said she had done everything she wanted to do. The suggestion caught me by surprise and I didn't object.

When we got in the car, David said that he and Susan had a place they wanted us to see. We drove north from the city, paralleling the Sound. Liz firmly clasped my hand, and laid her head on my shoulder. She seemed most content; had she been a cat, she would have been purring. I could feel her heart beating against my right arm. In contrast, my heart was racing. I didn't know how to end her fantasy.

Soon we arrived at the spot. We were on a small bluff overlooking the Sound. "You'll need to get out to appreciate the view," David said.

Liz and I walked forward to the edge of a cliff. When I looked straight down over the edge, it seemed that we were about fifty feet above the water. But, as I looked straight out, the water rose to eye level. There was a full moon and a remarkably clear sky -- a perfect night for lovers.

The bluff remained fairly level and clear of vegetation for several yards and Liz and I walked north along it. We were arm in arm. Without a single word to indicate any invitation or any acceptance, a contract between us appeared cemented. I had walked into the relationship. I had responded, and continued to respond in a way that could only be considered deceptive by the Anchors. Liz would feel justified in believing that I mislead her.

As I looked over the moonlit waters, I wouldn't have been surprised had I heard violins. Still, I needed to focus on how to break graciously this wordless contract. I had to talk to Liz. Could there be a worse setting for telling her that we should just be friends?

I couldn't bring myself to say one word. She was too content, and I feared too much the consequences of anything I could say.

We came to the end of the path along the ridge. We stopped. I felt my body go stiff. Liz broke the silence, "Isn't this simply beautiful?"

It was an opportunity for me to begin the breaking of the contract. I could have told her that such beauty was best shared by lovers, and we should never be lovers. As I looked at her, I knew that she awaited a totally different response. She was so delicate there in my arms. How much easier it would have been to yield to her desire, to her tenderness. Perhaps, the force of her tenderness, her desire, justified my being her lover, fulfilling the essence of such an ideally romantic moment for her.

I thought, "What can it hurt?" But, I knew the answer. It would hurt both of us. If this relationship was more than fantasy fulfillment for Liz, the more I encouraged it, the more she would eventually be hurt. Likewise, I knew that it would affect me. So, I didn't yield to the temptation; yet, neither did I tell her that it was over.

Instead I said, "We better go back, it's getting late."

She didn't say anything; we just turned and walked back along the path. We walked arm in arm just as we came, yet the feeling wasn't the same. Contentment no longer radiated from her.

Liz sat next to me on the ride back to her house, but our bodies didn't touch. We rode in silence.

When we arrived, Liz quickly opened the door and exited.

David said, "We'll be in soon."

I walked closely behind Liz as she let herself into the house. She walked into the living room and sat down on the sofa. The next play was obviously mine. If the contract was to be broken, I would have to break it and it would have to be broken verbally. The easier, more subtle route was clearly available; but, it led only to more entanglements.

"Liz, we can't go on like this."

She only looked up at me. I knew that my statement was unclear, but I hoped that she would understand, that she would help.

"I just wanted to be your friend. You're really a wonderful person; I enjoy being with you. I like to do things to make you happy; I don't want to hurt you ever. If we continue the way we started tonight well, we just can't."

All she said was, "Well, if that's the way you want it."

She stood and walked past me toward her room. I saw her tears as she passed.

Mr. and Mrs. Anchor were formal but polite at breakfast. Susan glared at me without saying a word. David, stone faced, was also silent, and he avoided all eye contact with me. Liz came to breakfast late, ate rapidly and excused herself.

I asked if the Anchors could drop me at the bus station on the way to church. No explanation seemed to be needed.

As I awaited the bus, I had a little success in shaking the feeling of remorse by remembering that my arm was strong again.

The bus seemed unusually crowded. I selected a seat next to a silver haired woman. She smiled.

"You have a wonderful smile," I said.

"It comes from serving the Lord. I was married to a minister. We worked with people in all 50 states."

"Really? Where did you live as a youth?"

"Right here in Olympia."

I nodded.

She rolled her eyes and smiled. "I must tell you, I was a little wild in those days. The war was going on, you know. Fort Lewis was the shipping out point. There were so many young men that I was in love with for a few weeks, until they were shipped out, and then I never saw them again. It all worked out for the best, I guess. But listen to me running on.

"It's funny, though," she continued, "we were fighting the Japanese then, and now they're our allies; we were on the same side as the Russians, and now they're our enemy. Things have really changed!"

I smiled as I looked into her baby-blue eyes and thought, "They haven't changed at all."

The next week I received orders to clear for discharge. That week was made even more exciting when Miara told me that she was now the supply sergeant's woman. The knowledge that the sergeant was married with several young children didn't dampen my relief in knowing that Miara had another object for her attention.

The sergeant made it difficult for me to clear the rehabilitation center. He seemed to manufacture records of supplies that I never had; my only recourse was to buy "replacements" from the P. X. He also challenged my manhood. By then, perhaps, I should have been used to that, but I wasn't. At one point, he asked why he never saw me doing anything that men do.

I asked what kind of things men do. He mentioned poker. I said that I had played poker. Then, he asked about rolling dice. I had to admit that I had never rolled dice. He challenged me to participate in a game that occurred daily in the NCO's quarters. Behind the challenge was the implication that my check-out process might be completed the next day if I came and played that evening. So I went.

I walked to the NCO's barracks around 5:00 p.m. The building was one of the older, oblong wood buildings. Inside, however, it had been partitioned into nice rooms for two. The game was in the rear most of these rooms.

The game was similar to the one on the ship. This game, however, had one unusual rule: The shooter couldn't pick up any money without passing the dice. If a shooter won a bet, he had to bet it all or give the dice to the next person.

The NCO's were mostly making ten dollar bets. I figured that I could afford to donate some of my savings to these men if it would help me to clear base.

I stood across the specially constructed wood and cardboard table from the supply sergeant. He seemed to be winning. He had the dice and there was $40 on the table.

"Come on little dice," he shouted as he rolled, "give me a little four."

"Well, shit, he made his four," said the man at the end of the table.

"Forty dollars open, and we got new blood in the game," said the supply sergeant looking in my direction, "save him a piece of the action."

"I'll try you for another $20," said the man at the end.

"I've got $10," said the man to my left, "that leaves ten for you, Kid.

I dropped $10 on the table. The supply sergeant threw the dice bouncing them against the side of the box. Each die turned with a six showing.

"Box cars," said the man to my left, picking up $20. "You won, Kid! Pick up your money." It had happened so fast. The supply sergeant was still cussing.

He said, "Well, I've got another $40 here."

My friend on my left said, "$10 left, Kid, put your money down."

The supply sergeant again threw the dice. "Fever!" he cried. "Little dice! If I can make a four, I can make a five!" He threw the dice again; this time it was a six. "Come on five!" He threw again. "Miss out dice!" He yelled before I realized that he had thrown a seven.

"Hey, now you're gettin the hang of this game," said my friend as I picked up $20.

In no time the dice came around the table to me. I bet $10, rolled a seven. I bet the $20, and couldn't make an eight.

My friend bet $10 and told me that I had the first opportunity to cover the bet. I put down $10 and told him to shoot. My friend could not make a nine.

The man on the end started with an eleven and then made two points before he picked up $80 and passed the dice. The supply sergeant started with $20 and made two points. The man on the end covered the first $20 and then twenty of the $40 on the second roll. My friend and I shared in the loss of the second $20.

"Let'er ride!" shouted the supply sergeant. "I'm rolling now!"

"Well, shit, I'll take half," said the man on the end.

"I'll take twenty! That leaves $20 for you, Kid!"

I dropped $20 on the table. The supply sergeant rolled an eleven.

"Let'er ride! I be damned if I'm going to be a pussy foot and draw down."

"That's enough for me. I don't want any more of him," declared the man on the end.

"Scared you off did he," came a voice from the other end. "I'll take $40, $120 open to you, Kid."

"Why not?" I did not want to know the answer to my question. My action was disassociated from me, like pulling the trigger had been.

The sergeant came out with a five, the same number that he couldn't make on his previous turn. He couldn't make it this time either. I picked up $240.

When the dice came to me again, I lost ten dollars when I couldn't make a ten. I won $10 when my friend couldn't make the same ten. I shared the bet of the person on the end as he made three numbers.

"I'll roll again," said the man on the end.

"I think not," said my friend, "He's breaking his pattern. He must feel a roll coming. Eighty dollars open to you, Kid."

"I got it."

He came out with an eight, but couldn't make it. I picked up $160. I thought if I just covered the bets long enough, I'd win. I had enough money to do just that.

I covered all the sergeant's next bets. He rolled several naturals, but two of them were craps. On his last seven he was again shooting for a five.

"You chased that $20 a long way," said my friend when I picked up the money.

"I sure did," I replied, but I knew that I had won more than $20 in the chase.

Soon, I was the one who was covering the roller each time when he threw a seven. Before long, I had all the money that anyone had to bet. The sergeant was still standing across the table. "Lend me $100, Hunter. I'll pay you back payday. You won't get mustered out before then. Give me a chance to get my money back."

I lent him that $100 six times before he, at the urging of his friends, said that he had to quit and go home.

The next day I cleared the rehabilitation center without trouble. The clerk in the supply office signed that all supplies had been returned. The sergeant wasn't in sight. I figured that I would never receive the six hundred dollars. It was inconsequential since I was almost free of the military. Moreover, I had netted almost two thousand dollars from the crap game, enough for two years at college.

Yet, on payday, the sergeant came to the clearance center, money in hand, to say farewell.

"Hunter, you're not such a bad guy after all. You don't know what you missed in Miara, but perhaps it's good for me that you don't. You ought to get you a woman like her someday."

"Perhaps someday I'll be man enough to handle one," I laughed.

The sergeant laughed too, "Yes, perhaps you'll be man enough."


As I was signing the final release papers, the NCO in charge noticed my insignia and asked, "You weren't in Charlie Company by any chance, were you?"

"Yes?"

"You're lucky to be going home alive. The Commies took out most of the company."

"Do you happen to know about Sergeant Pride?"

"Was that your squad? Then, you are lucky. He was in the lead. Your squad was the first to get it."

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